As you guys loved my 48 hours in Edinburgh post so much [nearly as much as I enjoyed writing it] I wanted to share some of my other travel expeditions.
I was super lucky to be invited to Milan at the beginning of last month by the Yes Milano Tourism Board to experience the wonders of the city over Christmas and the New Year and it has very quickly become one of my favourite cities I’ve visited; I’m already making plans to head back there in 2019 with a couple of gal pals.
I’m not going to lie, I had a very preconceived notion of what Milan was. To me, it was a cold hard industrialised city known for its fast fashion and not much else – but I could not have been more wrong. Milan is immersed deep within the depths of the cultural world with something exciting around every corner – from discovering Leanoardo da Vinci’s guilty pleasure to delving through the archives of some of the most celebrated designers and indulging in Milanese delight, Milan certainly has something for everyone.
After landing in Milan and checking into the gorgeous and Italian-traditional based UNA Hotel Cusani Milano it was time to head out to my favourite excursion of the entire trip – The Milano Chocolate Academy (you see why?!) As an ex-chef and general lover of good food, especially chocolate, any trip that means I get to channel my inner Willy Wonka and I am there. The Chocolate Academy has sites all across the globe including their main hub in Oxfordshire (which I now need to visit) but the Milan site is home to the first ever Chocolate Gelato Lab and is led by the incredibly talented patisserie designer Davide Comaschi who taught us all about the lab, how to identify specific notes and regions where the cocoa bean came from by rubbing (yes, really), sniffing (yes again, really) and eating (just YESS!) different kinds of chocolate and telling us all about his upcoming attempt to create the world’s biggest panettone, a delicacy to the city.
And I have incredible news that they have just received the Guinness World Record for their panettone which stands at 150cm high and contains 50,000g of flour.
After stuffing our faces (and pockets) with delicious chocolates ranging from devilishly dark through to white, caramel gold and pink we headed off for a tour of the old town which came complete with streets lined with flowers, fruit and veg stalls and restaurants that have stood the test of time. Hidden gem restaurants have been passed down through the generations and bring a traditional touch and bond to neighbouring cities, such as Sicilian inspired Ristorante 13 Giugno and Piedmontese flavoured Alla Cucina Delle Langhe. The Berra District works in perfect harmony with the artistic side of the city – with artisan workshops, quaint stores and high-class luxe all tied together with the authentic Italian restaurants that don the streets offering aperitivo and seducing the passers-by in true Italian style.
Milan’s hyper-local food scene was one that shocked me the most as the city is not traditionally known for its food but is home to over 20 Michelin Starred Restaurants and the birth place of the festive treat panettone. I think a petition to put Milan on the culinary map is long overdue – especially when our dinner that night was at the incredible and chic Sette Cucina Urbana, an upper-class setting serving traditional dishes with a fine dining spin. Starters came in the form of a seafood platter big enough for the entire table to share, beef carpaccio with shaved fennel and a mushroom and winterberry salad. Followed by a pumpkin and mozzarella risotto: rich, warming and with a delightful creamy depth. No room for dessert after carb-loading to the high heavens, a quick glass of red wine, a chat with the head chef and a brisk walk back to the hotel.
Breakfast the next day at the UNA Hotel (which has the most comfortable beds) saw a combination of traditional Milanese and continental dishes served buffet style. The UNA Hotel chain prides themselves on delivering an Italian home away from home and boasts one of the most traditional hotels across the globe with meticulous attention to detail from the style and design through to the service and food and is conveniently located within walking distance of the Palazzo Marino and the Castello Sforzesco di Milano (Sforza Castle), which we quickly popped into and awed in at its archaeological delight.
After a morning of delving through the archives of one of the most sought-after designers in Milan, Gianfranco Ferré and a guided visit around the Fondazione Ferré it was time to head across to FENDI’s headquarters for Pomodoro’s Secret Labyrinth Experience. Buried deep within the fashion’s main office, artist Pomodoro has created a masterpiece of artistic creation. The fully immersive exhibition starts with a secret sliding door and contains not only incredible design and art but also secret passages and doors to really bring the design to life. A stone’s throw away something a little more modern can be seen made from the hand of Giorgio Armani. Spanning across six floors of an old factory the Armani Silos combines the trends and timeless classic designs across decades of GA’s life expertly placed in themed rooms across the studio spaces with photography display on both the top and bottom floors showcasing the contemporary styles of the young Milan generation.
Lunch at Alfresco, an Instagrammer’s dream; floor to ceiling greenery drape the walls and ceilings and light and fresh ingredients don the plates of the hungry diners. No trip to Italy is complete without the traditional mozzarella and prosciutto shared across the table – family style and finished with a flourless chocolate cake with delicious gelato on the side before heading off for a tour of the more modern side of the city and it’s fashion district before hopping on an old converted tram – an iconic and historical part of Milanese history which was transformed by Chanel to celebrate their brand new limited edition bottle in red. They spritzed the entire city in their timeless elegance and lit up the city of Milan in red celebrating their limited edition No5 Chanel bottle which changed its packaging for the first time in its 97-year-old history. Not only did they show off its iconic silhouette with a giant monument on show in the Piazza Della Scala but ran their transformed tram through the streets with the opportunity for guests to climb aboard, surrounded by the classic scent of No5 and transforming their look with that timeless red Chanel lip. We hopped off the tram to gaze in the wonder of the 12 meters tall Swarovski tree in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele that included over 100,000 decorations; 1,000 Swarovski crystal stars; four digital installations and interactive screens to selfie with and share with friends across the globe. Before heading to the centre of Milan for a city-side scape to Christmas wonderland to see the opening of the first advent in the Piazza Duomo which was transformed by magic and intrigue. Inspired by the tradition of Turmblasen – the fanfare played by steeples and towers to celebrate special occasions, musicians and singers from the Orchestra Filarmonica Italiana and SONG Onlus played Christmas tunes and animated videos as doors were opened counting down till Christmas.
The last spot on our trip was the most special. Visiting Leanardo’s infamous Last Supper – an absolutely breath-taking piece of art that has stood the test of time and learning more about the incredible artist behind his work. Although born in Tuscany, Leanardo spent the majority of his working life inside the city of Milan and has left an indelible mark in not only the history but also the artistic production of the city. In May 2019 it will mark 500 years since his death and Milan has curated a special schedule that spans nine months including exhibitions, art installations, shows, concerts and more. So if you are looking for a reason to add Milan to your list apart from the aforementioned, make this it! And make sure to grab your own little slice of history with a unique tour into his estate and vineyard. Leonardo, who came from a long line of wine-makers was gifted a vineyard by the Duke of Milan. He quickly became deeply attached to the vineyard and gifted it to his servants in his will – where it has now been replanted and is flourishing. Who knew da Vinci and I had so much in common?
Milan truly gave me a new set of eyes for the wonder and culture of an unbelievable city. Packed full of hardship, struggle and artistic creation that has moulded Milan into the beauty it is today.